Twitter’s a weird platform. It’s a bit like going into a public place, shouting your thoughts out and hoping that people like them enough to run about repeating those thoughts. If you’re unlucky, the stuff you say might be stupid or controversial enough to have everybody shouting about how wrong you are right to your face.
And that’s one of the best and worst things about Twitter, really. Sometimes, having people call you out on your bullshit in a very public way can be a fantastic wake-up call. Other times, it can just be harassment and dogpiling – and the line between them is fine. To remove the harassment part of the equation, Twitter is making some drastic changes to how conversations on its app work. It’ll make Twitter a very different platform to use – by allowing people to choose who can reply to their tweets. In effect, it’ll allow for four options when tweeting: Global, Group, Panel, and Statement.
“Global” will function as all tweets do now: When a user tweets, it’ll be sent out into the world, allowing all and sundry to reply. With the “group” option, only those who you follow will be able to reply to tweets. With Panel, only a pre-selected number of participants can engage in the digital conversation, while Statement won’t let anyone reply. According to Twitter, it’s meant to curb targeted online harassment.
Says Suzanne Xie, Director of Product Management at Twitter: “The reason we’re doing this is, if we think about what conversation means on Twitter. Right now, public conversation on Twitter is you tweet something everyone in the world will see and everyone can reply, or you can have a very private conversation in a DM. So there’s an entire spectrum of conversations that we don’t see on Twitter yet.”
I’m a little ambivalent about these changes – which seem to be taking Twitter ever closer to Facebook and group interactions. On the one hand it’d be nice to use the platform to say something without the worry of being dogpiled by people whose vocal opinions run contra to your own. It also means that fake news can propagate without comments to counter or dispute it. On the other, Twitter already functions as an echo chamber – but if this means less grumpy people on the platform overall, then it’ll be a positive change.
Last Updated: January 9, 2020